Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson ****

Book Festival

Aug 13th only


Dame Carol Ann Duffy is the Poet Laureate, a playwright and also a professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. John Sampson is a successful musician, composer and actor in his own right. The well-known duo are much-loved regulars at the Book Festival and the main Baillie Gifford tent was almost sold out.

I have seen them perform many times both at the book festival and in their Fringe show. There is a comfortable familiarity between them which plays out on stage, always raising a laugh and a few eyebrows.

I was pleased to see that they had changed their set this time and Carol Ann Duffy began with readings from ‘1914 Poetry Remembers’ a book she edited to mark the centenary of the First World War in 2014. The most moving poem for me was Duffy’s own ‘The Christmas Truce’ written about the famous Christmas where soldiers from both sides agreed to cease combat and celebrate Christmas day in peace.

Carol Ann’s reading was enhanced by Sampson’s musical accompaniment, although it did feel surreal to be listening to Christmas music in a tent, in summer. As well as providing the musical interludes, John also performed a poem which was a welcome surprise. I have often felt that the two of them could make better use of his acting talent and develop their double-act into more of a show, but perhaps that wouldn’t be appropriate for the Book Festival devotees.

It is easy to forget that Duffy has a subversive side, which doesn’t come out to play very often. Given her position I don’t suppose she can go around downing the establishment, but when her term as poet laureate is over, who knows?

On saying this, I am reminded of the poem she published in the Guardian about Theresa May in response to this year’s General election. You can read ‘Campaign’ on the Guardian website.

We did get a glimpse of the rebel poet when, on announcing that she had considered renaming her poem ‘Mrs Faust’ (from the World’s Wife) to ‘The Third Mrs Trump’, she flicked a middle finger just before reading.

Perhaps not so respectable, so terribly middle-class, and that’s what I love about her.

Both Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson are back on the road from the 10th September appearing in Halifax then Kingston-on-Thames on the 15th.

Sharon Jones